Book Review: We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

We Are Monsters is a horror novel set in a mental asylum, in which Dr Alex Drexler experiments on his patients, trying to find a cure for schizophrenia. In the process, however, the drugs administered have caused unforeseen and dangerous side effects, unleashing patients’ past traumas and inner demons, transforming them into monsters.

I love the convention of mad doctors and experiments within the horror genre – the last one I read was Doctor Perry by Kirsten McKenzie – so I was excited to read We Are Monsters.

It was dark and interesting to begin with, as we see Dr Drexler attempt a variety of experiments which all fail. This built up well a foreboding sense that something is going to go extremely wrong at Sugar Hill – especially when it is suggested to Dr Drexler to experiment on the asylum’s most notorious, dangerous, and violent patient.

Of course, this experiment does go wrong and, as a side effect, causes multiple characters to hallucinate. I really liked these sections, as I had no idea what was real and what was fake – the narration was delightfully unreliable. There were also some scary and gory scenes, which felt appropriate for the genre.

However, there are some elements on We Are Monsters which, for me, let it down.

Firstly, Dr Alex Drexler is not a mad scientist or doctor – he’s not even slightly psychotic or twisted. This was disappointing, particularly as the book is meant to be primarily a work of horror fiction. Alex only ever seems interested in his experiments in order to financially benefit from them, which made him seem much more like a businessman than a doctor. Personally, I think it could have been an interesting parallel if the doctor working so hard to cure his mentally unstable patients was as equally mentally unstable himself.

Secondly, the book does not solely focus on Dr Alex Drexler, but delves into other the backgrounds and characters of other staff members at the asylum, such as Dr Eli Alpert and Angela. Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy their storylines very much, as I was only really interested in Alex’s character, and I didn’t think they were as relevant to the overall plot.

Finally, the latter half of We Are Monsters gets very confusing, very quickly. The patients kept talking about the shadows and the monsters within, but these things weren’t explained particularly clearly.  By the time I finished the book, I still didn’t understand what had happened, and I thought the ending merely added to the confusion.

To sum up, although I was interested in the premise, and some good ideas were displayed throughout, I think the execution of these ideas, for me, let We Are Monsters down.

Star Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

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I acquired this book for free in exchange for a review via NetGalley and Flame Tree Press, an imprint of Flame Tree Publishing.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Book Review: Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show by Eric Scott Fischl

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show by Eric Scott Fischl is a book set in 19th century America about a failed Civil War surgeon who has since become a snake-oil salesman and quack doctor. Dr Potter is part of company of travelling salesmen, circus performers and fortune tellers, selling a special elixir said to cure all manner of ills. However, the Sagwa elixir has some sinister side-effects.

My Photo [Dr Potter's Medicine Show].jpg

Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show is structured in 3 parts, so I’m going to structure my review into 3 parts.

Part One: The Medicine Show

The characterisation of Dr. Potter as a fraudulent doctor was immediately apparent, which was good. However, the reader is not given much time familiarising themselves with Dr. Potter before lots of other characters are swiftly introduced. I felt that more characters were added to the beginning of the story than was necessary. Subsequently, it was difficult to remember each character’s individual personality and role within the group. This worked to the book’s detriment as it meant Dr. Potter didn’t wholly stand out as the main character. The story developed fairly slowly; some parts of the narrative made complete sense but other parts I found somewhat confusing to understand.

Part Two: The Great Work

By the second part of the novel, the story was more coherent and I could clearly distinguish between characters and follow different narrative strands. I liked the overarching themes of body-snatching / body invasion, alchemy and medicine in the book, and I think the book’s genre is an interesting combination of horror, science fiction and historical fantasy. I also enjoyed reading about the secrets of different characters’ backgrounds, which were revealed through flashbacks. However, I still think there may be too many characters involved in the overall story.

Part Three: The Stone

I liked the final third of the book the most, even though there is a small printing error, as it is labelled Part 2 instead of Part 3. There was much more action, gore, character interaction, and exciting supernatural moments. The story seemed to make much more sense, and the writing was easier to follow too. The antagonist is desperately searching for a stone that seemingly grants immortality (is it an irony there is a stone which provides immortality and one of the characters is also called Potter?), experimenting on unwilling victims until he has the right scientific formula, and he must be stopped at all costs. Because of these scenes, it was apparent Fischl has done some detailed research into alchemy, medicine and how scientific experiments were conducted in 19th century America, which I found interesting.

Whilst I did enjoy reading this book, for me, it took a while for the story to get going. As a side note however, I really like the cover design.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Themes in: The Unlimited Dream Company by J.G. Ballard

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview. Instead of a book review, this will be thematic book discussion.

The Unlimited Dream Company is a novel by J.G. Ballard, published in 1979. I have not written a book review of it; I think it’s too weird a book for that. The Unlimited Dream Company is about a man named Blake, who crashes a plane into the River Thames, outside the London suburb of Shepperton. He is supposed to drown, but doesn’t, and becomes a form of supernatural messiah figure for Shepperton.

In the lecture we were given on The Unlimited Dream Company, it was pointed out that it is not a novel which can be fitted easily into specific genres. However, I’ll attempt to.

Utopian?

On the one hand, The Unlimited Dream Company can be considered Utopian, because Blake experiences increasing happiness and freedom in the surreal and quasi-magical version of Shepperton in which he finds himself. This magical version of Shepperton is a world full of vibrant colours and plant life, which is encouraged by Blake to become an Edenic perfection. Furthermore, it becomes apparent that Blake is in control of his own reality; his dreams are capable of literally coming true, an aspect of the narrative which is presented as happy and hopeful.

Dystopian?

On the other hand, The Unlimited Dream Company can be considered Dystopian, because Blake is unable to leave Shepperton, although he tries on numerous occasions to escape. He finds himself stuck in this mystical and inexplicable version of Shepperton. Furthermore, Blake seems to lack a moral compass and does whatever he wants, forming Shepperton into what he wants it to be, which may not be a dream come true for everyone else.

Gothic?

The Unlimited Dream Company also draws on many conventions of the Gothic genre. For example, Blake engages in numerous taboos such as paedophilic urges and the sexualisation of children, and extreme violence towards the townspeople of Shepperton. Additionally, the novel contains themes of death, resurrection and the supernatural – all of which are associated with the Gothic genre. Also, there are many liminal spaces in The Unlimited Dream Company, which is a convention of the Gothic genre. The geography of Shepperton morphs over time as Blake alters the world to his liking. Blake crashes into the River Thames at the start of the novel, but none of the townspeople revive him, yet Blake doesn’t drown. This makes it unclear whether Blake is truly alive, or whether he is trapped in some form of purgatory, or trapped within his own mind and sense of self. Blake also sees his doppelgänger (double) in The Unlimited Dream Company. At the end of the novel, Blake discovers the wreckage from the plane crash in the River Thames. He sees the body of a dead pilot within the sinking debris. However, it is left deliberately ambiguous as to whether this is Blake discovering his own dead body, or whether it truly is a different character, and Blake was never the pilot after all.

Overall, I think The Unlimited Dream Company most strongly draws upon surrealism and the Gothic genre. However, as it’s such a weird book, I am still struggling to understand it.


Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more content like this, as well as plenty of book reviews.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Themes in: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview. Instead of a book review, this will be thematic book discussion.

Brave New World is a novel by Aldous Huxley, published in 1932. I already wrote a book review of Brave New World, which you can click here to read. This blog post will not be an inherent discussion of themes in Brave New World, but a discussion of genres instead.

Science Fiction?

Like The Time Machine, Brave New World can be considered science fiction because it is a novel about a futuristic world with extraordinary technological advancements. For example, the society in Brave New World learn through hypnopaedia, a method that teaches a wide range of information during sleep, and laboratories are used to engineer future generations with perfect precision. This emphasis on efficient technology was inspired by Henry Ford’s car factories, as Ford highly valued precise engineering and efficient production. The notion of technological, genetic engineering instead of biological reproduction was also inspired by discussions at the time surrounding eugenics and the possibility of a perfected human race.

Utopian?

Speaking of perfection, Brave New World is an arguably Utopian novel because, as in The Time Machine, there is a strong emphasis on leisure and entertainment, which is most notable in the hedonistic culture encouraged throughout the novel. For example, citizens attend the ‘Feelies’ instead of the cinema which show highly sexualised films with lifelike details and ‘amazing tactual effects’ the viewers can experience themselves (Chapter 3, p. 29). Sexual encounters are encouraged to happy as regularly as possible, with anyone and everyone, to increase happiness. This is demonstrated with the slogan ‘everyone belongs to everyone else’. Furthermore, citizens are encouraged to regularly use the Soma, a drug which increases happiness and decreases worries, anxieties, or dissatisfactions, should they occur. Thus, society is too drugged on hedonistic pleasures to ever consider an uprising against the government. As previously mentioned, children are engineered to save time and the physical effort and expenditure of pregnancy and childbirth. Children are “born” into a rigid class system, determined by their DNA, which determines their quality of life, social status, and employment for the rest of their life. As children, their playtimes are monitored and controlled and as adults, their working hours are meticulously regulated.  In theory then, Brave New World presents an efficient, perfect, Utopian society that is socially, economically and politically successful.

Dystopian?

However, Brave New World can equally be described as Dystopian. Although the government has made many technological advancements and is trying to make society the best it can be, this has negative consequences.  The government regulate and control every aspect of citizens’ lives from their birth to their death; they are “born” from a test tube and after death, their bodies are cremated for ‘phosphorus recovery’, harvesting ‘a kilo and a half per adult corpse’ (Chapter 5, p. 63). The government provide regular Soma and birth-control, to encourage and enforce drug use and promiscuous sex. The government introduced hyphopodia to indoctrinate children to conform to the ideologies of the state. It is evident there is an overwhelming lack of free will and true happiness because society is brainwashed, oppressed, and trapped under totalitarian control, in the government’s pursuit of efficiency and perfection.

Ultimately, the decision as to whether Brave New World is truly Utopian or truly Dystopian is left for the reader to decide. I know I wouldn’t like to live there though.


Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more content like this, as well as plenty of book reviews.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Themes in: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview. Instead of a book review, this will be thematic book discussion.

The Time Machine is a novella by H.G. Wells, published in 1895. I already wrote a book review of The Time Machine, which you can click here to read.

Science Fiction?

The Time Machine most clearly belongs to the science fiction genre, as it contains many conventions associated with the science fiction genre, such as time travel, technology, and the future – the most obvious example being the fact the Time Traveller travels in time to the year A.D. 802,701. He does so with a remarkably advanced piece of technology – particularly for Victorian England – called a time machine, which is ‘delicately made’ from a ‘crystallin substance’ (Chapter 1, page 6). Ironically however, upon the Time Traveller’s arrival into the future, he notes that there is ‘no machinery’ and ‘no appliances of any kind’ (Chapter 5, p. 43) technological advancements have been lost and society has regressed into a simpler, primitive way of life. The Time Traveller also finds the future sublime and inexplicable, which is another convention of the science-fiction genre. This is demonstrated with the numerous rhetorical questions the Time Traveller asks such as ‘Why?’ and ‘How shall I put it?’ (Chapter 5, p. 43), as he struggles to comprehend the new world around him. Furthermore, towards the end of The Time Machine, The Time Traveller travels further into the future to see the apocalyptic end of the world – another convention that can be considered part of science fiction narratives – and watches as the world is consumed by an ‘inky black’ darkness,  a ‘glowing scarlet’ sky and is left utterly lifeless and cold (Chapter 11, p. 88).

Utopian?

The Time Machine can also be considered a Utopian novel. The Utopian genre often focuses on a society which has been perfected, and can enjoy peace and happiness. Indeed, these genre conventions are reflected in The Time Machine. The Eloi, the people of A.D. 802,701 focus their lives on fun, food, and a life of leisure. In this futuristic world, there are many beautiful flowers and gardens, which contrasts against the heavily industrialised setting of Victorian London the Time Traveller has departed from. Furthermore, The Time Traveller observes that the Eloi spend all their time ‘playing’, ‘bathing’, ‘eating’ and ‘sleeping’ (Chapter 5, p. 43). Undoubtedly, many would find this prospect incredibly desirable and relaxing.

Dystopian?

However, these same aspects of The Time Machine can be considered Dystopian, which is the exact opposite of the Utopian genre. Dystopian literature focuses on a world considerably worse than the author’s own, and life is usually oppressive or unfulfilling – or both. The Time Traveller arrives in A.D. 802,701 expecting to find a far more advanced human race than his own, a notion influenced by Darwinian theory of continual evolutionary progression. This is not the case. Instead, humanity has degenerated and split into 2 distinct species, both of which are worse than the Victorian society The Time Traveller left behind. The Eloi may have a seemingly fun and easy life, but they have lost their mental stimulation, physical strength, creativity, knowledge, and intelligence. They lack the motivation for … anything.  The Morlocks have also regressed and are akin to cavemen, as they hide underground and hunt the Eloi at night for meat. This presents the idea of evolutionary regression and is the direct opposite of a perfected, Utopian society.

To sum up, as I hope I’ve demonstrated, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells draws on conventions from the science fiction, Utopian and Dystopian genres.


Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more content like this, as well as plenty of book reviews.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Book Review: Killing Adam by Earik Beann

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

This is a book review for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Killing Adam is a science-fiction dystopian novel by Earik Beann.

It is set in a futuristic world in which people are controlled by Altered Reality Chips. ARCS are implants placed behind the ear which allow people to go online for long periods of time and forget the banality of real life. However, behind this technological marvel is a computer singularity – Adam. Adam controls and lives within every brain and monitors every aspect of society, and he must be stopped.

my-image-killing-adam

Killing Adam is a standard but enjoyable piece of science-fiction that fits into the science-fiction and dystopian genres well.

Earik Beann’s creative imagining of what futuristic technology may look like was interesting –  particularly his idea that characters use these ARCs to, quite literally, escape reality.  It was sad that they constantly and willingly plugged themselves into alternate worlds, creating fictions for themselves,leaving their families behind and causing face-to-face relationships to crumble away.

The main character of Killing Adam is Jimmy Mahoney, a fairly ordinary man, who suffers as an outsider in this new futuristic world. Due to a brain injury, Jimmy’s body is unable to accept an ARC. Subsequently, he is excluded from the fantastical online realities that everyone else experiences. However, this means he is not under the mind-controlling influence of Adam. This means Jimmy has a chance. Adam could be destroyed.

For me, it was slightly difficult to understand exactly what or who Adam is. The book describes him as a singularity, which – I think – means he is a form of computerised consciousness. I could be wrong though – I struggled to fully understand the explanations the book provided.

Although I may not understand Adam, his character was fascinating. Adam is a powerful antagonist who uses mind manipulation and cruel, callous language to get what he wants. I thought the characterisation of Adam was particularly impressive, in light of the fact he only ever communicates through other characters’ thoughts and yet I still had a firm impression of Adam’s attitudes and personality traits.

The ending to Killing Adam was fairly standard; it tidies some loose ends but leaves room for a possible sequel, should Earik Beann decide to turn this into a series.

Killing Adam was an enjoyable science-fiction read.

Star Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Book Review: The Subjugate by Amanda Bridgeman

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

The Subjugate by Amanda Bridgeman is partly science fiction, partly dystopian, and partly crime thriller.

A community known as The Children of Christ is shocked when a series of sexual attacks and murders are uncovered in the heart of the town. The Children of Christ is home to seemingly pure, religious folk as well as surgically reformed criminals – Subjugates – who are repurposed as servants, known as Serenes. They have been surgically altered to have their sinful tendencies and violent behaviours removed. The question is: who then, is responsible for these attacks? Detectives Salvi Brentt and Mitchel Grenville work to find and stop the serial killer before another victim is claimed.

My Photo [The Subjugate]

I really enjoyed reading The Subjugate. The settings and descriptions were completely immersive – the world created is both futuristic and realistic, drawing on motifs used in other dystopian and science fiction novels as well as describing things I could see happening.

The futuristic technology is well-explained; explanations weren’t overly lengthy or complicated so everything was easy to understand. I liked the irony that the characters’ dependency on technology wasn’t too far-fetched at all from today’s society. This grounded the novel in some realism, so that some of the more advanced technology didn’t seem too unimaginable. Mobile phones and watches with an increasing range of capabilities? Cars that can drive themselves? Check and check.

Whilst I enjoyed the representation of technology, I wonder whether the representation of religion – that is, Christianity, was slightly too harsh. For example, some characters were described in a negative way, simply because the protagonists learn they hold Christian beliefs. Now, I don’t mind dystopian or warped religious beliefs, such as those featured in The Handmaid’s Tale or Brave New World. These representations can provide interesting commentaries as well as entertainment. I just felt that the community in The Subjugate was judged immediately and negatively by the protagonists just because it was a religious town, which didn’t seem quite fair.

Nevertheless, I found the book interesting in a few different ways. For example, the fact that the government is focused on rehabilitating and releasing even the most violent criminals into the world again, through the sinister use of lobotomies and experiments to modify behaviour and character traits was a fascinating, though horrifying, prospect.

Control over the human body and the mind is such a huge motif in science fiction or dystopian novels.  In A Clockwork Orange, doctors want to control and prevent Alex’s criminal tendencies by therapy akin to torture. In Brave New World, the government want to control and condition people to submit to the life to which they have been genetically assigned. In 1984, Big Brother wants control over what people say or think or do. In The Handmaid’s Tale, women lose control of their relationships, bodies, and potential children. The desire for omnipotent control over the human race is eerily present across all these novels, including The Subjugate.

Amanda Bridgeman’s effective use of this motif is not only entertaining, but prompts some interesting questions:

  • Would it be better to strip people of their free will, forcing them to be good?

or

  • Would it be better to allow people their free will, giving them the right to choose to be bad?

If you want to answer these questions, you’ll have have to read the book for yourself!

The Subjugate was an enjoyable read that blends a number of different genres really well; it’s perfect for fans of science fiction, dystopian, fantasy, or crime thrillers.

It had some fun plot twists, and I found myself engrossed in finding out what happened next – I read the entire thing in just a few days! The ending tied things up well, and I liked that the culprit wasn’t immediately obvious as there were a few different suspects.

I wouldn’t mind at all if Amanda Bridgeman chose to write a sequel to The Subjugate – either with the same characters or different ones – set in the same world, because I’m certainly interested in learning more about the futuristic world she’s created!

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.